In the wide world of steak-cookery, there’s no short supply of tips, tricks, and “hacks” to give you a better steak. While we do want to avoid the term “fake news”, there’s no denying some of these oft-repeated steak-cooking mantras are exactly that. Today, we are going to look at some of the most pervasive myths in steak cookery, and debunk them -- with science!
Myth 1: Don’t salt steak before it’s cooked.
Like many of the myths on our list, there’s rarely any real, factual information attached to this one. The often-repeated explanation is some version of salt drawing out moisture, but is that such a bad thing? Science says no.
Pre-salting a steak is sometimes referred to as ‘dry-brining’, and is actually a great practice to get into. While the salt does bring out moisture, it only draws away water from the surface of the steak. The drier you can get the outside of your steak, the better your sear will be.
Myth 2: Steak is best when cooked at room temperature
The theory here is that cooking a room-temperature steak will give you a more even cook and sear. How? Why? No one seems to know.
But, Chief Culinary Advisor J. Kenji López-alt Serious Eats was able to dismantle this myth without much trouble. The myth is fundamentally flawed -- the searing process has basically nothing to do with the starting temperature of your steak. A good sear comes from water evaporation and the Maillard Reaction.
Myth 3: Searing meat locks in the juices.
Really, this might be the most egregious myth on our list. We’ve covered this in the past, but we’re happy to bust this myth once more. Originally ‘discovered’ in the 1840s, this myth has been debunked about a hundred times since...but, it persists. In multiple experiments and hands-on studies, food scientists have found no difference in moisture loss between seared and un-seared steaks.
In fact, the reverse-sear method is a technique that people use with great success. It involves cooking the steak at a lower temperature, and then searing it on an extremely hot grill. Try it out!
Myth 4: Don’t flip your steak more than once.
This is one of the more nonsensical myths in this list. People often have vague notions about flipping a steak ruining the sear, but the scientific reality certainly doesn’t reflect that idea.
According to noted food scientist Harold McGee, flipping a steak often can actually improve the texture of your steak, and help prevent drying out. By turning your steak often, neither side will absorb or lose any extra heat. This means that your steak will cook evenly, and McGee even points out that it can accelerate cooking time.
Myth 5: Use the poke test to tell when your steak is done.
This one seems to be breathing its dying breaths, but we’ll still go over it. Often, people have some version of poking their palms to simulate the firmness of rare/medium/well-done steaks.
Unfortunately, every single cut of steak feels different at each temperature. A medium-rare filet is not going to ‘poke’ the same way as a medium-rare ribeye, because of the huge difference in protein structure and fat content. Myth BUSTED.
So there you have it! Did we flip your world upside-down? We sure hope so! But hey, if it makes you a better griller in the end, that’s all that matters.